Online Deliberation – Singapore
This study, funded by the MOE Academic Research Fund (AcRF) (Tier 2), is a collaboration between NUS’ Department of Communications and New Media, Institute of Policy Studies and School of Computing. The project is a multi-phase study that brings together new media technology, policy studies and public communication to examine the impact of online deliberation, and its theoretical and implementation issues for policymaking.
Aims of Study
This study adopts a multi-disciplinary approach involving communication, human-computer interaction and policy studies. The project investigates citizen participation in policy discussion on a digital deliberation platform to understand how citizens perceive the effectiveness and legitimacy of online deliberation in policymaking, and to develop a platform that will enable policymakers at various levels to understand and incorporate citizen participation. The project also examines various design features of a digital platform that influence the mechanisms of deliberation and ultimately shape participants’ perception of deliberation.
In conclusion, online deliberation did not exert a uniform effect on people’s attitudes towards population issues as the impact depended on the issue type. Support and perceived impact for all policies decreased except for the policy of “bringing in new citizens”, and perceived effectiveness of all New Citizens policies increased while it reduced for all Fertility policies. The findings point to an interesting shift in people’s attitudes towards the policy of slowing down the growth of foreign workforce, one from agreement (with slowing down growth) to ambivalence. Different attitudes towards different types of foreign workforce were also observed, with more favourable reception for mid-level skilled workers and service staff. When it came to the issue of New Citizens, our findings hint at people’s recognition of the need to bring in new citizens, as indicated by the shift in response from disagreement to ambivalence. Further analysis (content analysis) by the researchers of the online discussions may shed light on the reasons for the survey findings.
The process of online deliberation also exerted an impact on people’s information-seeking. The use of both social media and mainstream media saw an increase in usage post-deliberation. While online websites of mainstream media were most used by people for population-related information, Instant Messaging platforms and social networking sites saw the highest increase in use. This finding highlights the importance of personal networks as sources of information, similar to what we had established in the IPS study on media use during General Election 2015.
One limitation of online deliberation is that it is biased towards those who are younger, the more educated and those from the middle-upper class. Again, this is more likely to be a reflection of the population who are active online. The implication for policy communication is that outreach must be targeted at disenfranchised social groups. Face-to-face focus groups can be used to complement online deliberation for future deliberation exercises.
Singapore’s Fertility Issues
Foreign Workforce in Singapore
Immigration and New Citizens in Singapore
2,006 participants, representative of the Singapore population, were recruited for the pre-deliberation survey (both pre- and post-deliberation surveys were conducted by YouGov)
The questionnaire included variables such as:
- Perceptions and opinions on policies for Fertility, Foreign Workforce and New Immigrants
- Certainty and conflictedness of own attitudes
- Usage of mainstream media and social media for information-seeking and discussion
- Political traits (e.g., political knowledge, political efficacy, political cynicism and political participation)
Consent were sought for participation in the online deliberation platform
Among 1,208 invited participants, 509 logged in at least once and completed the post-deliberation survey.
The post-deliberation survey repeated some measures, e.g., perceptions and opinions on policies for Fertility, Foreign Workforce and New Immigrants; media usage, and political traits.
Additional questions such as the “look and feel” of the digital platform and likelihood of future participation were added in the post-deliberation survey.